Godzilla Minus One: A devastatingly beautiful end to 2023 cinema

2023 has been a stellar year for fans of cinema: from the revival of the “double feature” through “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” to the comic book movie’s return to triumph with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse;” from new voices in indie filmmaking with “Talk to Me” and “Past Lives” to the return of beloved directors with “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “The Boy and the Heron.” Naturally, I expected the final big film I was looking forward to, “Godzilla Minus One,” to be a fitting end to a phenomenal year of film. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and all of my expectations were exceeded.

“Godzilla” is a beloved film franchise, originating in Japan with the first epic kaiju film, Gojira, in 1954. The story of Godzilla is deeply rooted in the post-WWII climate of Japan, as the monster itself was created by Ishirō Honda as a way to personify the devastation of nuclear weapons, based on fractions of Japanese folklore as well. The franchise has been passed around through many studios, starting with Toho Co., Ltd. and, more recently, the American company Legendary Pictures. “Godzilla Minus One” takes the franchise back to its roots with a post-WWII setting, in the hands of Toho and Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki.

Small warning before you decide to see this movie: it is a Japanese film with no English voice-over. As someone who watches a lot of foreign films and television, the subtitles didn’t bother me in the slightest. If you are someone who doesn’t like subtitled media, I suggest waiting for a potential English dub in a physical or digital release.

At first glance, most people can probably figure out what a Godzilla movie is about: the titular monster, wreaking havoc upon a city and the people within it. That was certainly my expectation going into the theater. However, the plot and characters were a whole lot deeper than my initial thoughts. Every main character faces their own struggles with living in post-war Japan, ranging from the survivor’s guilt of a former kamikaze pilot, a young woman’s sense of belonging in a found family, and so much more. The characters aren’t boring, they’re the main focus of the movie, and they are treated as such. The focus of this movie isn’t to root for Godzilla as he fights robots, it’s to find ourselves within these characters and their struggles, and see how they react to nuclear fallout personified as a big scary monster. All of the actors give fantastic performances and elevate these characters to a whole new level of humanity, and it would be a disservice to not recognize their talent in this review.

The visuals of this movie are absolutely stunning. I’d be fully confident in calling this film one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the year on a purely technical level, even next to juggernauts like “Oppenheimer” and other Hollywood blockbusters with 9-digit budgets. “Godzilla Minus One” had a budget of under $15 million. This relatively small budget was utilized extremely well, blowing the quality of most movies with 20 times the budget out of the water. When watching, you can feel the passion these craftsmen of cinema had for delivering a high-quality experience to their audience. The special effects aren’t at all cheesy and add to the sense of fearful reality this movie delivers so brilliantly, and the cinematography is at its best at all times. “Godzilla Minus One” is raw, cinematic power.

This film highlights a lot of the biggest problems I have with modern Hollywood. Why is it that the vast majority of our blockbusters are shallow in their writing and overall quality, regardless of the hundreds of millions of dollars in budget, yet this brilliant gem delivers so much more when created from so much less? How come Hollywood studios milk intellectual properties until there’s nothing of value left, yet Toho is coming out in press conferences saying they won’t make another Godzilla for a while, because they’re aware of the franchise’s worth? This film’s success means so much to me because, if these studios aren’t too out of touch, the entire industry could change for the better.

Overall, this film was phenomenal and my personal favorite of the year. I don’t love giving scores, but my experience with the film was practically flawless and I couldn’t bring myself to give it anything lower than a full five stars. See this movie, see it again, you won’t regret it! Even if you’ve never seen a Godzilla movie before, “Minus One” is an event you won’t forget.

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